The fourth segment of this season’s bowl bonanza features the final nine games of 2019.
Monday is home to four contests which all air on ESPN with just one exception. The party starts at 12:30pm EST with the First Responder Bowl (ESPN). That leads into a pair of games at 4pm EST – the Music City Bowl (ESPN) and the Redbox Bowl (FOX). Primetime rightly belongs to the Orange Bowl (8pm EST, ESPN) – also the only ranked vs. ranked matchup featured in this stretch of games.
Tuesday – New Year’s Eve – kicks off at Noon EST sharp with the Belk Bowl (ESPN) followed by the Sun Bowl (2pm EST, CBS). Next up is the Liberty Bowl (3:45pm EST, ESPN) followed, 45 minutes later, by the Arizona Bowl (4:30pm EST, CBSSN). The year ends with a solid offering in the Alamo Bowl (7:30pm EST, ESPN).
Happy New Year, friends and here’s to all our teams playing well in 2020.
Monday, Dec. 30
SERVPRO First Responder BOWL
WESTERN KENTUCKY (8-4) vs. WESTERN MICHIGAN (7-5) – C-USA vs. MAC – Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas, Texas – 12:30pm EST – ESPN
First year: 2011
Previous names: TicketCity (2011-12), Heart of Dallas (2013-17)
Most Appearances: North Texas (1-1)
Last year: (23) Boston College was set to play Boise State but the game was cancelled due to inclement weather.
Western Kentucky is 3-2 in bowl action. It last went bowling in 2017, falling 27-17 to Georgia State in the Cure Bowl. The most recent win came in the 2016 Boca Raton Bowl, a 51-31 win over Memphis.
Western Michigan is 1-8 in bowl play. It fell 49-18 to BYU in last season’s Idaho Potato Bowl. Its most recent, and only-ever bowl win came in the 2015 Bahamas Bowl, a 45-31 victory over Middle Tennessee.
This marks the first time that Western Kentucky and Western Michigan have met in 72-years. The two squared off 15 times between 1923-47 with the Broncos holding a 11-3-1 advantage.
Line: Western Kentucky -3
This is a solid matchup between Western Michigan’s offense (ranked No. 25 in the FBS in points per game) and Western Kentucky’s No. 21 ranked scoring defense. The Broncos have been more successful running the ball than throwing it, putting pressure on the Hilltoppers’ No. 42 ranked rushing defense. On the flip side, WKU has struggled to score points this season (ranked No. 90 nationally) and run the ball (No. 107 in yards per game). In order to win this one, the Hilltoppers will have to rely on (and the Broncos will have to shut down) their one glimmering offensive hope – a passing attack ranked No. 52.
Players to Watch
Western Kentucky: junior DL DeAngelo Malone (#10) (tied for No. 4 in the FBS in tackles for a loss and No. 11 in sacks)
Western Michigan: senior RB LeVante Bellamy (#2) (No. 1 in the FBS in rushing TDs and No. 8 in rushing yards per game), junior LB Treshaun Hayward (#23) (No. 5 in the FBS in total tackles)
CALIFORNIA (7-5) vs. ILLINOIS (6-6) – Pac-12 vs. Big Ten – Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. – 4pm EST – FOX
First year: 2002
Previous names: Diamond Walnut San Francisco (2002-03), Emerald (2004-09), Kraft Fight Hunger (2010-12), Fight Hunger (2013), Foster Farms (2014-17)
Most appearances: Boston College (1-2), UCLA (0-3)
Last year: Oregon 7 – Michigan State 6
California is 11-11-1 in bowl play. It fell 10-7 in overtime to TCU in last year’s Cheez-It Bowl. The most recent win came in the 2015 Armed Forces Bowl, a 55-36 victory over Air Force.
Illinois is 8-10 in bowl action. It hasn’t gone bowling since the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl, a 35-18 loss to Louisiana Tech. It last won the 2011 edition of the Fight Hunger Bowl (now the Redbox Bowl), a 20-14 win over UCLA.
Cal and Illinois have met ten times previously but not since 2005 and never in the postseason. The Illini lead 7-3 all-time but the Golden Bears have won two-straight.
Line: Cal -6.5
This is the story of two teams who have struggled to move the ball and score points taking on a pair of defenses that have performed well with one major exception. First up, Cal – despite its high-flying heritage – is ranked a dismal No. 115 in scoring offense. It’s been equally bad running the ball (No. 105) and passing (No. 104). As for Illinois, it’s a more respectable No. 78 in scoring offense but an almost-as-poor No. 91 in rushing offense and No. 110 in passing. Defensively, the Golden Bears have been good at everything (No. 32 in scoring and No. 26 vs. the run), except for stopping the pass (No. 109) while the Illini have had success in limiting scoring (No. 53) and shutting down the pass (No. 39) but haven’t been able to stop the run (No. 109). Will Cal’s rushing game look much improved or will Illinois’ passing attack seem magically better? Either way, this one will likely be low scoring.
Players to Watch
Cal: senior ILB Evan Weaver (#89) (No. 1 in the FBS in total tackles), junior OLB Cameron Goode (#19) (tied for No. 25 in the FBS in sacks)
Illinois: senior LB Dele Harding (#9) (No. 2 in the FBS in total tackles)
Franklin American Mortgage MUSIC CITY BOWL
MISSISSIPPI STATE (6-6) vs. LOUISVILLE (7-5) – SEC vs. ACC – Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tenn. – 4pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1998
Most appearances: Kentucky (2-3)
Last year: Auburn 63 – Purdue 14
Mississippi State is 13-9 in bowl play. It fell 27-22 to Iowa in last season’s Outback Bowl. Its most recent win came a year earlier, in the 2017 Gator Bowl, a 31-27 victory over Louisville.
Louisville is 10-11-1 in bowl action. It last went bowling in the 2017 Gator Bowl, a 31-25 loss to then (24) Mississippi State. It hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2015 edition of the Music City Bowl, a 27-21 victory over Texas A&M.
A rematch of the 2017 Gator Bowl, Louisville has had five whacks at Mississippi State and has never bested the Bulldogs. The two played each other consecutively from 1973-76 before reuniting in 2017.
Line: Mississippi State -5.5
These two teams both have elite rushing offenses – Mississippi State is No. 18 nationally in rushing yards per game (No. 3 in the SEC) while Louisville is No. 23 in the FBS (No 3. in the ACC). What creates a mismatch is defensively – where the Bulldogs are a decent No. 56 vs. the run, the Cardinals are an awful No. 115, only 15 teams in the nation have allowed more rushing yards per game. Louisville ended the regular season by giving up 517 rushing yards and six rushing TDs in a 45-13 beatdown at Kentucky.
Players to Watch
Mississippi State: junior RB Kylin Hill (#8) (No. 13 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)
Louisville: redshirt freshman RB Javian Hawkins (#10) (No. 7 in the FBS in rushing yards per game), sophomore WR Chatarius Atwell (#1) (tied for No. 9 in the FBS in receiving TDs)
Capital One ORANGE BOWL
(9) FLORIDA (10-2) vs. (24) VIRGINIA (9-4) – SEC vs. ACC – Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla. – 8pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1935
Most appearances: Oklahoma (12-8)
Last year: CFP semifinal (1) Alabama 45 – (4) Oklahoma 34
Florida is 23-21 in bowl action. It destroyed then (8) Michigan 41-15 in last season’s Peach Bowl.
Virginia is 8-12 in bowl play. It blanked South Carolina 28-0 in last year’s Belk Bowl.
Florida and Virginia have only met once in history, during the 1955 regular season, a 55-10 win for the Gators.
Line: Florida -14.5
Both teams share similar offensive DNA – success through the air vs. frustration running the ball. The numbers are almost mirror images: Florida is No. 37 nationally in scoring, No. 17 in passing and No. 122 in rushing while Virginia is No. 42 in scoring, No. 37 in passing and No. 111 in rushing. Defensively it’s the Gators who have set themselves apart, earning elite rankings headlined by a No. 8 mark in scoring D, No. 12 vs. the run and No. 18 vs. the pass. While the Cavaliers’ D isn’t poor, it hasn’t had the same success (No. 59 in scoring, No. 30 vs. the run and No. 70 vs. the pass). Florida is the more complete team and will likely get it done through the air.
Players to Watch
Florida: junior QB Kyle Trask (#11) (No. 14 in the FBS in completion percentage), sophomore K Evan McPherson (#19) (tied for No. 10 in the FBS in field goal percentage)
Virginia: senior QB Bryce Perkins (#3) (No. 31 in the FBS in passing yards per game)
Tuesday, Dec. 31
VIRGINIA TECH (8-4) vs. KENTUCKY (7-5) – ACC vs. SEC – Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. – Noon EST – ESPN
First year: 2002
Previous names: Continental Tire (2002-04), Meineke Car Care (2005-10)
Most Appearances: North Carolina (1-3)
Last year: Virginia 28 – South Carolina 0
Virginia Tech is 13-19 in bowl action. It fell 35-31 to Cincinnati in last year’s Military Bowl. The most recent win came in the 2016 edition of the Belk Bowl, a 35-24 victory over Arkansas.
Kentucky is 9-9 in bowl play. It nipped then (13) Penn State 27-24 in last season’s Citrus Bowl.
Virginia Tech and Kentucky have met 19 times previously but not since 1987. The Wildcats lead 11-6-2 all-time but the Hokies have won three of the last four.
Line: Kentucky -2
The compelling strength vs. strength matchup in this one is Kentucky’s prolific running game – ranked No. 4 in the nation – taking on a Virginia Tech rush D ranked No. 27. Only Navy, Army and Air Force have averaged more ground yards per game than have the Wildcats this season. On the flip side, the Hokies held five of their opponents this season to fewer than 95 yards rushing. What may make the difference is Virginia Tech’s offense – while capable, ranked at only No. 52 in scoring – vs. a stingy Kentucky D ranked No. 12 (in the FBS) in scoring.
Players to Watch
Virginia Tech: junior LB Rayshard Ashby (#23) (No. 31 in the FBS in total tackles and No. 35 in tackles for a loss)
Kentucky: junior WR Lynn Bowden Jr. (#1), junior RB Asim Rose (#10), redshirt freshman RB Kavosiey Smoke (#20) and redshirt freshman RB Christopher Rodriguez Jr. (#24) (combined they’ve rushed for 3,116 yards and 28 TDs)
Tony the Tiger SUN BOWL
FLORIDA STATE (6-6) vs. ARIZONA STATE (7-5) – ACC vs. Pac-12 – Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas – 2pm EST – CBS
First year: 1935
Most appearances: Texas Tech (1-8)
Last year: Stanford 14 – Pittsburgh 13
Florida State is 28-16-2 in bowl play. It most recently beat Southern Miss 42-13 in the 2017 Independence Bowl.
Arizona State is 14-16-1 in bowl action. It fell 30-21 to then (19) Fresno State in last season’s Las Vegas Bowl, also its third-consecutive bowl loss. It last won the 2014 edition of the Sun Bowl, a 36-31 victory over Duke.
A rematch of the 1971 Fiesta Bowl (a 45-38 win for the Sun Devils), Florida State and Arizona State have met four times previously. The Seminoles have a 3-1 advantage and have won the last three, all played between 1979-84.
Line: Arizona State -3
Neither of these teams have remarkable statistical resumes. Offensively speaking, both have had more success through the air (FSU is No. 33 nationally in passing offense while Arizona State is No. 48) than on the ground (the Seminoles are No. 101 in rushing O while the Sun Devils are No. 112). This sets up for a pair of mismatches against what amounts to two of the poorest pass defenses in the FBS. Florida State is ranked No. 120 nationally vs. the pass while Arizona State is a mere eight slots better at No. 112. This one has all the makings of a high-flying, highly entertaining yard-fest.
Players to Watch
Florida State: sophomore WR Tamorrion Terry (#15) (No. 27 in the FBS in receiving yards per game)
Arizona State: true freshman QB Jayden Daniels (#5) (No. 28 in the FBS in passing yards per game)
To bridge the gap between Willie Taggart’s firing and Mike Norvell’s hiring, Florida State will be coached in the Sun Bowl by associate head coach Odell Haggins. Haggins played defensive line for the Seminoles (1988-90) and has served as their interim head coach on two occasions: earning a 2-0 mark in 2017 (including a 42-13 win over Southern Miss in the Independence Bowl) and again this season, posting a 2-1 mark thus far.
AutoZone LIBERTY BOWL
(23) NAVY (10-2) vs. KANSAS STATE (8-4) – AAC vs. Big 12 – Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tenn. – 3:45pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1959
Most appearances: Arkansas (2-3)
Last year: Oklahoma State 38 – (24) Missouri 33
Navy is 11-11-1 in bowl play. It last went bowling in 2017, sinking Virginia 49-7 in the Military Bowl.
Kansas State is 9-12 in bowl action. It most recently appeared in the 2017 Cactus Bowl, earning a 35-17 win over UCLA.
This is the first-ever football meeting between Navy and Kansas State.
Line: Kansas State -2.5
The big question in this one is whether K-State’s No. 61 ranked rushing defense can manage to contain Navy’s No. 1 ranked rushing attack. The Wildcats have faced three rushing offenses ranked in the Top 20 this season: No. 18 Mississippi State (KSU gave up 201 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs in a 31-24 win), No. 16 Oklahoma State (KSU gave up a season-high 373 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD in a 26-13 loss) and No. 12 Oklahoma (KSU gave up only 102 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs in a 48-41 win). It amounts to allowing, on average, 225 yards to three above-average rushing offenses. The Midshipmen are currently averaging 363.7 ground yards per game. Tune in to see if K-State’s defense will be the version that lost to Oklahoma State or the one that beat Oklahoma.
Players to Watch
Navy: senior QB Malcolm Perry (#10) (No. 2 in the FBS in rushing yards per game and rushing TDs), junior LB Jacob Springer (#1) (tied for No. 20 in the FBS in tackles for a loss)
Kansas State: junior PK Blake Lynch (#10) (tied for No. 7 in the FBS in field goal percentage)
NOVA Home Loans ARIZONA BOWL
WYOMING (7-5) vs. GEORGIA STATE (7-5) – MWC vs. Sun Belt – Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz. – 4:30pm EST – CBSSN
First year: 2015
Most appearances: Nevada (2-0)
Last year: Nevada 16 – Arkansas State 13 (OT)
Wyoming is 7-8 in bowl action. It most recently beat Central Michigan 37-14 in the 2017 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Georgia State is 1-1 in bowl play. It beat Western Kentucky 27-17 in the 2017 Cure Bowl, also its first and only bowl victory in program history.
This is the first-ever football meeting between Wyoming and Georgia State. The Panthers are 0-3 all-time vs. the current membership of the Mountain West.
Line: Wyoming -7.5
This under the radar pairing features both a top-tier battle of strengths and a serious mismatch. First up, tune in to see Georgia State’s No. 14 nationally ranked rushing attack take on a Wyoming D ranked a lofty No. 6 vs. the run. Where the Panthers’ 245.17 rushing yards per game is just better than (8) Wisconsin’s 240.54-yard average, the Cowboys are allowing a mere 99.42 rushing yards per game, just better than (2) Ohio State’s 99.54-yard mark. Wow! On the other side of the ball, it’s Wyoming’s No. 27 ranked rushing attack taking on a Georgia State D ranked a dismal No. 116 vs. the run.
Players to Watch
Wyoming: senior SS Alijah Halliburton (#3) (No. 10 in the FBS in total tackles), sophomore RB Xazavian Valladay (#6) (No. 28 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)
Georgia State: senior RB Tra Barnett (#5) (No. 9 in the FBS in rushing yards per game)
Valero ALAMO BOWL
(11) UTAH (11-2) vs. TEXAS (7-5) – Pac-12 vs. Big 12 – Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas – 7:30pm EST – ESPN
First year: 1993
Most appearances: Iowa (2-2), Oklahoma State (2-2)
Last year: (12) Washington State 28 – (25) Iowa State 26
Utah is 17-5 in bowl action. It fell to Northwestern 31-20 in last season’s Holiday Bowl. The most recent win came in the 2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl, a 30-14 victory over West Virginia.
Texas is 29-24-2 in bowl play. It beat then (6) Georgia 28-21 in last year’s Sugar Bowl.
Utah and Texas have only met once previously, a regular-season game in Austin in 1982 which the Longhorns won 21-12.
Line: Utah -6
The Utes have an elite defense – ranked No. 5 nationally in scoring, No. 1 vs. the run and No. 13 against the pass. This sets up for an exquisite matchup with the Longhorns’ high-flying offense – ranked No. 18 in scoring and No. 19 in passing. What might cost Texas is its secondary – ranked No. 127 in passing yards allowed. Only three teams have been more generous through the air. This puts pressure on Utah’s passing attack, which consequently is not its offensive strength (the Utes are ranked No. 29 in rushing yards per game vs. No. 65 in passing). Despite the disparity in these two teams’ records, this ought to be a quality game to watch.
Players to Watch
Utah: senior RB Zack Moss (#2) (No. 12 in the FBS in rushing yards per game), senior QB Tyler Huntley (#1) (No. 5 in the FBS in passer rating and tied for No. 3 in yards per attempt), senior DE Bradlee Anae (#6) (tied for No. 7 in the FBS in sacks)
Texas: junior QB Sam Ehlinger (#11) (No. 9 in the FBS in passing yards per game), senior WR Devin Duvernay (#6) (No. 7 in the FBS in receiving yards per game)